Eating fruits and vegetables is a great way to get the most nutrition out of your calories. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients.June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, a great time for everyone to consider whether they're including enough fruits and vegetables in their eating plans.
Choosing fresh produce that is in season will help insure the best tasting and highest quality produce. Proper food storage helps maintain food quality by retaining flavor, color, texture and nutrients, while reducing the chance of contracting food-borne illness.
Fruits & Vegetable tips for selection, storage:
Select produce in season. Produce in season during summer includes bell peppers, blueberries, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, grapes, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, and zucchini. Fall produce includes broccoli, cauliflower, cranberries, pears, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and turnips. During winter look for dates, kiwi, Brussels sprouts, oranges, tangerines, kale, and squash. Spring produce includes apricots, artichokes, asparagus, mango, pineapple, and snow peas. For a complete list check out http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/whats-in-season.
Buy fresh fruits & vegetables. When buying fresh fruit and vegetables, buy only what you will use within a few days. Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. When selecting pre-cut produce, such as a half a watermelon or bagged salad greens, choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice. Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home from the grocery store.
Store produce safely. Storing fresh produce properly helps prevent food-borne illness. Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, carrots, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or below. Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled to maintain quality and safety. Wash produce thoroughly with clean, cool, running water just before it is to be prepared or eaten. For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes. Refrigerate all cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables within 2 hours (within 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees F). For more information on storing perishable, semi-perishable, and non-perishable foods check out http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/ec446/build/ec446.pdf.
Separate for safety. Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood and from kitchen utensils used for those products. Wash hands with hot soapy water before and after preparing food. To avoid cross-contamination, wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked. If you use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use.
The potential benefits associated with eating more fruits and vegetables stack up quickly, and reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases is only the beginning. Check out http://food.unl.edu/nep/materials and http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/ for more information and resources on the importance of and how to get more fruits and vegetables.
Lisa Franzen-Castle is an Extension Nutrition Specialist, PhD, RD, for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.